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Wild elephants in Thailand – Safari in Kui Buri National Park

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Southern Thailand

Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 28/02/2024, 22:15

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Elephants in Thailand are definitely something that every traveller wants to see and experience in the Land of Smiles. The animal is a symbol of the country and interactions with them draw many tourists to Thailand. However, it is good to know that not every such encounter is ethical and can do more harm than good. In this article, I will tell you about one place where you can see elephants in their natural habitat and not cause them any harm. I invite you to take a trip to Kui Buri Park.

Kui Buri Park is a national park in the south of Thailand. I found myself here by accident, as I also found myself in Prachuap Khiri Khan and the Phraya Nakhon cave by accident. From there I was quite close to the park. And when I found out that I could see wild elephants in Kui Buri, I didn’t think long, hopped on a scooter and headed for adventure.

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    Elephants in Thailand – The dark side of Thai tourism

    I have written extensively about elephants in Thailand before. I also managed to write an article for National Geographic (it’s in Polish, but you can easily use Google translate to translate it) about why riding elephants is harmful. I will write it again.

    In order for an elephant to carry you on its back, it has to undergo what is known as spirit breaking. A baby elephant is taken from its mother, imprisoned, starved and beaten for days and nights. When its torture is over, the animal’s future keeper pulls its chains. The elephant then recognises this man as a saviour and is loyal to him to the end.

    However, this is not the end of the suffering. Elephants currently in Thailand can only be used in designated areas for tourism. The animals are often not kept in good conditions, they are kept on short chains, they are not allowed to walk on their own and the bench that is placed on their backs can deform the animal. In their old age, such elephants suffer greatly.

    A number of sanctuaries have been established in Thailand in recent years. However, it turns out that they too are not exactly ethical. Most of them rent animals from riding sites and use them for circus tricks. In high season, such rentals are the order of the day.

    If you want to help animals and do not want to add to their suffering, choose a good sanctuary. I have written about how to do this here. You should also consider simply giving up such entertainment and donating the money to one of the charities.

    I’d also recommend you take a trip to Kui Buri Park, as it’s definitely one of the best places to observe elephants.

    Getting to Kui Buri National Park

    Getting to the park on my own was not the best. The expressway leading from Prachuap Khiri Khan was of good quality, but there were big trucks speeding along it that didn’t seem to see me or anyone else. Of course, I’m probably exaggerating, but I really still thought I was going to be knocked off my scooter!

    When I had crossed the gates of the national park and everything indicated that I was there, I still drove for a very long time through empty, quiet roads, where every now and then, a small hut sprang up near me. Nowhere were there signs to lookout points or any other information allowing me to see exactly where I was supposed to go.

    I stopped at a building that looked like the park office, where a couple of men were working in the garden. In my broken Thai, I asked where I should go to see the elephants and was directed to the next gate, a few kilometres away.

    A view point in Kui Buri National Park.
    Kui Buri Park is a great way to see the nature in Thailand.

    Finally, around 11 o’clock, I arrived at the huge car park and the new park office. Everywhere was quiet and the buildings were locked up to the hilt. Fortunately, at a small kiosk next to the car park, a very nice lady informed me that everything was closed until 2 o’clock and I could only buy tickets around 1 o’clock. She treated me to a coconut and I sat down in the shade and waited for the park to open.

    Safari in Kui Buri Park

    It turned out that I couldn’t enter the park on my own. I had to buy a seat on a jeep and a guide. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, as I hadn’t done much research beforehand and had absolutely no idea how things were supposed to work.

    So I bought a ticket and after a while I was sitting in the back of a big jeep together with my guide. Sitting in the car with me were a couple of other strangers who had driven down from the surrounding towns and cities just before 3.

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    The jeep tour lasted about 2-3 hours. We drove from viewpoint to viewpoint, looking out for elephants and other animals. It was a hot day and elephants don’t like full sun, so it was only after a very long time that we managed to see a small herd by a remote forest.

    Kui Buri Park viewpoint, Thailand.
    We sat here for a long time trying to spot wild elephants.

    Even though the elephants were very far away, I enjoyed it like a child. This was the second time I had seen elephants in the wild (the first time was in India) and this experience also squeezed tears from my eyes. Seeing wild animals strolling freely is always a great experience for me.

    Wild elephants in Kui Buri Park, Thailand.
    We were lucky to see wild elephants from the distance.

    During the safari, each participant can decide when they want to return. Quite a few people still stayed until the park closed. I headed back shortly after seeing the elephants. I would have stayed a little longer, but the vision of driving along the road at night made me not feel like staying in Kui Buri any longer.

    How to organise a trip to Kui Buri National Park?

    Set aside half a day to visit Kui Buri. The park opens at 2 p.m. It’s worth arriving at 1 p.m. to go on safari. It all ends around 4pm or a little later. You can return earlier or stay until closing.

    I, of course, took a scooter. I have experience of driving on Thai roads. This kind of transport is something I would recommend only to people who can drive, have experience and are licensed. Really, I am not exaggerating when I say that the roads around the park are dangerous.

    Hiring a car might be a bit safer. I recommend hiring something bigger and more efficient so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the big trucks that will probably pass you.

    You will take your own transport to the car park, where you must leave your car or scooter and change to a jeep with a guide.

    Here beware, the place from where the jeeps start is not well marked on the map. Follow this link for the exact place to go.

    Another option is to hire a driver. This is certainly a slightly safer option. Thai local taxi drivers know how to drive and will definitely get you to your destination safely.

    I’d also recommend you consider buying a guided tour, who will make sure you get there at the right time and see a few extra things around the area.

    The cost

    • Admission to the park – 200 BHT per adult, 100 BHT per child
    • Jeep hire – 800 BHT per car. If other tourists will be there, you split the cost between all people.
    • Binocular rental – 100 BHT.

    Visiting Kui Buri Park is definitely a great idea not only because it can be a great adventure and a beautiful experience, but also by going there to spare the suffering of animals elsewhere.

    Have fun at Kui Buri and hopefully the park will be that magical point in your stay where you finally get to see wild elephants in Thailand.